retail anthropology

retail anthropology
(REE.tail an.thruh.POL.uh.jee)
The principles and practices of anthropology applied to retail spaces and operations.
Example Citation:
So-called retail anthropology now regularly maps the most arcane patterns of consumer behavior: which aisle number in a store seems the most alluring; what kind of overhead lighting and piped-in music is conducive to purchasing; what gimmicks lure shoppers into the most lucrative parts of the store, a fabled area known to marketers as Zone 4. Before long, the ways of the American shopper will be as codified and demystified as those of a Yanomami tribesman.
— Lawrence Osborne, "Consuming Rituals of the Suburban Tribe," The New York Times, January 13, 2002
Earliest Citation:
Soon, however, it dawned on Paco [Underhill] that Whyte's ideas could be taken a step further — that the same techniques he used to establish why a plaza worked or didn't work could also be used to determine why a store worked or didn't work. Thus was born the field of retail anthropology.
— Malcom Gladwell, "The Science of Shopping," The New Yorker, November 4, 1996
What's up with the "Zone 4" reference in the first citation? Retail anthropologists divide a store in various "zones" that refer to physical sections of the store. They correspond roughly to how far away the merchandise in the section is from the store's entrance. The first zone is the Transition Zone (a.k.a., the Decompression Zone) and it refers to the area around the store entrance where customers slow down and orient themselves. From there the first quarter of the store is Zone 1, the second quarter is Zone 2, the third is Zone 3, and the fourth is Zone 4. (These sections can be rectagular or semi-circular, depending on the shape of the retail space.) Retailers want shoppers to penetrate to Zone 4 because it means they see all or most of the store's merchandise. This explains why, for example, grocery stores put staples such as the milk and meat at the back of the store.
A similar phrase that I've seen is retail enthnography:
So the latest trend in the science of psyching out the shopper — a trend propelled by the development of new technology — is "observational research," otherwise known as "retail ethnography."
— Stephanie Simon, "Shopping with Big Brother," Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2002
This one doesn't work, however, since ethnography is the branch of anthropology that studies and describes ethnic groups.
Related Words: Categories:
Ethnography is less a branch of anthropology and more a means of studying life-ways of a particular culture (as opposed to Ethnology, which is a cross-cultural study), seeing as how a large part of anthropology is studying particular ethnic groups. Hope this helps :)Interesting article.
And thank you for providing citations.
Very useful.
That said, I'm not sure I agree with your definition of "ethnography." At its root "ethnos" just means "people," and it doesn't necessarily mean "ethnic group" as the mainstream understands it. So on this premise, an ethnography is simply a description of any group of "people." Therefore, anthropologists can and do make ethnographies about all sorts of folks; American shoppers included.
--- Ashkuff,

New words. 2013.

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